Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Team Penske team all but guaranteed their spot in the 16-team Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason with their win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. On Tuesday, No. 2 crew chief Paul Wolfe talked about pretty much being locked into the Chase after being on the outside looking in a year ago, despite being the 2012 Sprint Cup champions.
Wolfe also talked about NASCAR’s new qualifying procedure that’s now two races old when it comes to Sprint Cup competition, among other things. Here’s what he had to say:
HOW BIG WAS THAT WIN ON SUNDAY?
“Well, obviously it was a huge win for us for a lot of different reasons. One, like you mentioned, of pretty much getting us locked into the Chase. Obviously it’s not a guarantee if multiple cars got a bunch of wins, but we feel good about that, and I think it was a good momentum-builder for this team and kind of what we needed to get this season started off right. Obviously, 2013 didn’t go the way we hoped, and not even having a shot to defend our title. I think this gets everyone excited and shows that we’re back on track to where we want to be and will allow us to explore some more things. Obviously, there’s been a lot of change this year with the new rules package, and we’ve put a lot of work into that and trying to understand what that meant, and until here over the last few weeks we didn’t really know how we were going to stack up. So far, we’re pleased with where we’re at but know there’s still a lot of evolving to do with this new package, and our goal now is to continue to push hard and try to stay on top of it and continue to build as we get towards the end of the season and Chase time.”
COULD THEY MAKE A RULE THAT SAYS YOU CAN’T PUT TAPE ON THE NOSE, OR COULD THEY SAY YOU CAN’T DRIVE AROUND TO COOL THE ENGINE? WHAT WOULD BE THE IMPACT OR ARE THOSE EVEN FEASIBLE SOLUTIONS?
“Well, I think maybe saying you can’t run any tape, I don’t know that that would be a great choice. But I don’t know, we’ve talked through it as a group of trying to understand if any type of rules would come out, how would guys get around it, I guess, and policing some of these things would be tough. But I don’t know how you could police the not going out and cooling down. That would be tough to do because technically you could, like you said, take some tape off and go out there. At what speed are they going to regulate whether you’re cooling down or not? I think some of those things are hard to police. I think guys are concerned about maybe the safety aspect of the cars obviously running around slow on the race track while others are at speed. I know at this point from what I’ve heard that’s probably the biggest concern. I know guys would like to see cool-down machines being able to be used. That just introduces a whole other thing when you start bringing cool-down machines out to pit road. I don’t know, it’s a tough spot. I guess for myself and for our team at this point, we’re just trying to be able to react to any type of change that there is and do the best job we can, and that’s kind of where we’re at at this point. As far as the 2 car over the last two weeks, there’s only one instance, really, where we needed to go out and cool down. I think it’s those guys that are right on the edge that need to make multiple runs. I think as we go to different tracks with different tires and things like that, it’s going to — it’s all going to continue to evolve. Now, the first two weeks of it, we’ve been at tracks where the tire, where a scuffed tire potentially has more speed than a sticker. Obviously, as we get to tracks like a Texas or an Atlanta, I don’t even think running a second time is an option to pick up speed. So that’ll change the dynamics, as well. From the 2 car team, we’re just trying to continue to understand all those dynamics, and as we get to different tracks with different characteristics, just trying to stay on top of it and continue to have strong efforts like we have had the last two weeks.”
IS THERE ENOUGH ROOM AT BRISTOL FOR PEOPLE TO DRIVE AROUND AND COOL THEIR CARS OR WITH IT BEING A SHORT TRACK WILL THAT NOT BE AN ISSUE?
“It’s going to be a tough one. I think the cooling will be obviously a little bit better this week just from the fact that it’s 15-second laps. The engine temps won’t get quite as high, but, yeah, trying to go out and cool down at Bristol could be a potential issue. There’s really no room to get out of the way, unless you’re just running around on the flat part there on the apron, so it’ll be interesting. Like I said, every week is bringing a new challenge, different style of race track and tire changes that up some, and like I said, we’ve just got to prepare for the best. Temps I don’t think will be as big of an issue, but there’s still an issue there.”
WHAT HAS ALLOWED YOU TO GET OFF TO SUCH A GOOD START COMPARED TO SOME OTHER TEAMS WITH THIS NEW RULES PACKAGE?
“I don’t know that I can necessarily pick out one thing. I think it’s all about the people and the group of guys we’ve got working on it, from our test team with Kevin Buskirk and that group, to the engineers on both of the race teams, to all the support we have back here at the shop. I don’t think any of us really knew what the rules were going to be until December, so I don’t know that us not running for a championship really gave us any type of an advantage because we didn’t have parts and pieces and know what the final rules were going to be until, some of them not until January. But it’s just doing the best job we can trying to use the resources and tools we have, and I feel like as a group we’ve done a decent job at it. But the challenge now is continuing to evolve from what we’ve started here and continue to try to make gains and stay ahead because the way it works in our garage, it’s very — everyone sees what other teams are doing, and some of the components that were on our car when we won last week will be on display at Bristol this weekend, and over time everyone in the Cup garage is smart enough to — if you are struggling to maybe pay attention to what’s going on around you, and if you’re not continuing to move forward with say what we ran last week at Vegas, if we continue to sit on that, we’ll surely fall behind in a hurry.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THESE NEW CHANGES FIT BRAD’S STYLE AND WHAT YOU GUYS PUT TOGETHER FOR HIM?
“I wouldn’t disagree that the new qualifying format has directionally maybe helped the 2 team. Qualifying for us if you look at our track record over the last three years, is really not one of our strong suits, but with that being said, anything that maybe has to do with strategy or things like that we tend to have done really well with. This has definitely opened that up. It’s not necessarily all about just putting together that one-lap speed, it’s putting together multiple runs and understanding how to make changes as you go from one round to the next round. We like the challenge of that, and that’s been something that is different than what qualifying has been in the past. So we’ll see. It’s still early on, and like I said, obviously so far it’s been really good to us, and hopefully we can continue that trend as we go later on into the year.”
WITH ALL THESE CHANGES DO YOU FEEL THE BOND BETWEEN DRIVER AND CREW CHIEF IS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT NOW?
“Absolutely. The communication part and understanding what we need to do, what changes we need to make, that’s obviously very important to qualifying now, where in the past you practice and you put together what you think is your best package and you go run one lap, and it is what it is, where now if you go out and make a run, even if you’re off a little bit, you still have opportunity to continue to work on your car and try to better your speed. So from that standpoint I think communicating well, and the short segments of breaks we have there is very important in understanding what changes the driver needs, so I think that’s definitely helped us.”
ARE YOU GUYS SCRAMBLING RIGHT NOW TO GET NEW PARTS DESIGNED AND SUBMITTED BEFORE THE END OF MARCH DEADLINE?
“Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge because you think about your season and preparing for a Chase and a championship run, and in the past obviously you’ve pretty much been able to develop all year leading right up to the Chase, and, for that matter, at times coming up with things do you work the Chase, as we’ve done in the past, is really no longer an option, I guess, unless it’s really a safety item. So, it’s definitely been a challenge, and our engineering group has worked really hard to try to speed up that process a little bit, and we’ve continued to, over the last few weeks, as we’ve started to run each weekend, understand our setups and different things that we’d like to change moving forward. We’re definitely pushing as hard as we can and trying to get all those out on the table as the deadline is just around the corner, so it’s definitely been different, and like anything in the sport, we go out there and race on Sunday, but all the other aspects leading up to it you have to treat as a race as well because, at the end of the day, it’s going to have an outcome on your performance on Sunday.”
HOW DOES THAT IMPACT YOUR DECISION ON WHEN TO TEST? WILL YOU WAIT UNTIL LATER IN THE YEAR NOW THAT IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’LL BE IN THE CHASE?
“Well, that’s definitely — that’s big, to get that win now, because you’re right, it allows us to hold those tests until later in the season. Now, obviously we still have the 22 car that we need to see get a win here real early. We work really close as teammates here, as I’ve said in some interviews post-race, so it’s important for us to do all we can to help get that car in the Chase as well. If it comes down to a point where they’re not in yet and we need to go test somewhere that could possibly help them get in, then as a team that’s what we’ll do. But, otherwise, yes, we would definitely save these tests until later in the season as we continue to develop these setups and pick out the tracks that we think are going to be critical to being strong in the Chase and being able to continue to advance through the different cutoffs through those 10 races.”
DOES WINNING ON SUNDAY MEAN YOU’LL BE MORE AGGRESSIVE THE REST OF THIS YEAR?
“Well, I think you’re right. As you look back at history, and as we started to have some success in 2011 and the way we did that, some of those races weren’t necessarily all-out speed, but, like you said, different strategies and things we did on pit road that were maybe not the norm in the past. We were able to have a lot of success that way, so coming into this season Brad and I sat down and talked through different strategies and things we wanted to change or do different this year, and one of the things we told each other was let’s get back to being aggressive — don’t be afraid to take chances, and try to get back to where we’ve been in the past. I feel like that was some of what we showed over the first couple weeks here, and now that we’ve got that win and gets us pretty much real close to being locked into the Chase that now that maybe opens that door even a little bit more. You know, I think an example of that was probably the 88 car this week. They knew they were short on fuel, but the risk versus reward for them right at that point in time was — it was worth the chance. I guess you could see ourselves being in similar situations in maybe some of the races coming, and yeah, we’re definitely not afraid to be aggressive. Brad is — we’re on the same page when it comes to that, and that’s the important part of calling a race and doing some different strategies is that this is stuff that we talk about ahead of time and is somewhat as planned as it could be in understanding different scenarios and how they play out and how we would react to them. So as the race is unfolding, it allows us to make those decisions. There’s a difference between being maybe a calculated risk and just totally not understanding the flow of a race or how it’s going. I’d like to feel like we’ve — to be successful on different strategies, you kind of have to understand how the race is playing out and how you feel it might unfold as well because we like to take risks and do things different, but, at the same time, there’s definitely a lot of thought that’s gone into those decisions.”
HOW IS THAT NEW BABY DOING?
“He’s doing great. It’s definitely an exciting time in my wife’s life, and we’re trying to take it all in and enjoy the experience for sure.”
— Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR